Peeking Inside Reader Response Journals

We’re in the midst of an independent reading unit and this weekend, I finally got around to reading through the student reading journals. I’ve been pushing hard for them not to summarize what they have read, but to take a step deeper into reflection and make predictions, judgments, connections and more as they are reading.

While a few still can’t seem to make that next step (a predictable few, unfortunately), most of my students have used the models from earlier in the year for their reading responses. They are asking questions of the writer, wondering about the motivations of characters, analyzing setting, and connecting the stories and characters with their own lives. For me, this demonstrates good evidence of active reading.

Here are some sentences that I pulled out of the journals:

  • A connection I am starting to make is that all things we do affect everything. (SkyClan’s Destiny).
  • She (the librarian) found him (cat) huddled up in a tiny ball, in the library book return box. When I read that, my heart sank. (Dewey the Library Cat)
  • I think the concept here in this novel are like problems in the real world, so it helps me to understand the book better. (City of Ember)
  • From what I’ve heard, Tom, the main character, may be a bit of a devious person. (Adventures of Tom Sawyer)
  • A lot of people could relate to this scene, where you get mad at someone and you say stuff you later regret. (No Small Thing)
  • I want to save this quote because it reminds me of how my dog sleeps because when he sleeps, he looks dead with his tongue hanging out. (Eggs)
  • … his name, Smoke, leads me to say that he is not a very good influence. Just by the name, the author expresses to us how he is bad. (Scat)
  • He is adventurous, like me. He is courageous, like me. He is fast, unfortunately — not like me. (Fablehaven)
  • I found an error (in the book). It says Ron’s bike is a YZ80. It says it would not start because of a dead battery but it’s a kickstart. Kickstarts never need a battery. (Dirt Bike Racer)
  • I am really getting a good picture of it in my head. (Swindle)
  • This book is giving me good ideas for my own writing (Maximum Ride: School’s Out Forever)

Peace (in the reflecting),

Laughter and Chatter: Remembering Kindergarten

Kindergarten files
We had one of the funnest, most laugh-infested Circle of Power (Morning Meeting) sessions in my class the other day, as one of my sixth graders brought in a book that she and a bunch of others published when they were in Kindergarten with my colleague, Gail Poulin. (See her wonderful class blog and her own reflective blog).

My students shared, with permission of the others, drawings and stories they had either written or had transcribed. As is often the case with Gail, the stories were nicely published together. The theme for book was about “I Have  Dream” (inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.) and another packet was when one student is “star of the day,” the others write nice things about them and draw cute pictures.

Even students who did not have Gail for their kindergarter teacher had a great time with looking at the drawings, and listening to the stories, and remembering a bit about their own kindergarten experiences. It was an unexpected surprise, and we all had a good time.

Thank, Gail, for making memories that can impact us up here a the other end of the building. And thanks to the rest of our wonderful kindergarten team, too, who do such a fantastic job with the youngsters in our building. The things they do in those younger grades sets the stage for the learning we try to do in the upper grades. I know I appreciate their hard work.

Peace (down the memory land),

Eavesdropping on Norris Tech Team

The other day, I wrote a post about a meeting of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project — a sort of eavesdropping into the topics of the gathering. A few days later, I was in a meeting of our Norris Elementary School Technology Team and took some notes. Here are some of the topics we talked about. The Tech Team is comprised of our principal, our district’s technology coordinator, and teachers of various levels and disciplines in our building.

  • We spent a chunk of time talking about Facebook and pondering our school’s presence there. One of our team members created a Norris School FB site in the summer and he maintains it, but the principal wonders about the line between “official school news” and someone posting items to the Norris School FB wall, seemingly as official news (but not). I imagine a lot of schools are struggling with this. While I am not FB fan, I do see the value is connecting with the community that does use FB. We didn’t resolve much here, except to research if a post to the wall can be held in moderation before going public.
  • The last few meetings, we’ve aired some difficulties and frustrations we are having with staff members using and taking care of equipment that we do have available. Computer carts don’t get signed out; individual computer get taken off the carts; wires and cables disappear; digital cameras are scattered about. So, we are moving towards a Google Calendar system so that the sign-out process for the three computer carts (two PC and one Mac) will be all online. Ideally, this will allow everyone to know where the carts should be and when they are available. We’ll see how it works when the concept gets rolled out in a week or so. Our tech coordinator is working to provide a Google account to all staff members in the building, and then constructing shared calendars.
  • The flow of Promethean and other interactive boards into classroom is continuing but the training has not yet followed. What this means is that some teachers with boards don’t know how to use them, even in basic terms, and some have not yet even opened up the software on their new Macs (and some have not even used the Macs at all). A training session is taking place next month, led by a teacher here at our school and another teacher at another school in our district. I think we’ll be needing much more than that — I think a Mentor System is the way to go. We’re not there yet.
  • A series of workshops around using our new set of iTouch mobile devices, and the Thinkfinity site (which paid for the devices), is coming up in late March. Teachers will learn how to use the devices for at least some podcasting and publishing in the science area, as a focus. The grant also provides a stipend for participants, and they get to take use the iTouch during the time periods. We’re hoping this gets folks interested and engaged. But, we worry about use and care of the devices (see previous points).
  • The principal noted his commitment to sending our entire Tech Team to an upcoming technology conference in nearby Holyoke (with keynote speaker, Alan November). He supports the idea of going together as a group, then reflecting afterward on how we can use ideas we gathered here at our school. (This is the conference that I am sending in a proposal to for a workshop on Technology Across the Content Areas.)
  • Our tech team misses our Ning site, which we used a lot last year to connect but then abandoned because of Ning’s cost shift. I may look around for an alternative or try to get our principal to pony up the $20 for the basic Ning setup. It really made a big difference in our communication as a team.
  • Our principal left us with a little “fun homework,” as he called it. We are to come up with one interesting idea of technology that might inspire us, our school, to make a step forward. He suggested it be something neat, or fun, or engaging. I have more ideas than I can think of, but one that came up the other day is how some school districts create “virtual snow days” for students to connect with the school even when the school day is called off for weather. This appeals to me because of the lack of consistency these past few weeks, although I wonder about hurdles of implementing ways for students to work (and teachers to monitor) from home during snow days. (See article about this at The Answer Sheet.)

Peace (in the sharing),

Images and Multimedia: The Teacher Challenge

I seem to have fallen behind a bit with the Edublog Teacher Challenge, but that’s the beauty of online work — there’s always another day. I’ve missed two of the activities: thinking about how we use images on our spaces and thinking about how we embed media into our sites.

First, I use images as a partner to text, mostly, but this is something I have been rethinking or at least, wondering about. Am I using images with blog posts for the way it looks or for the way it means? I’d have to admit: it’s all about the visual. I guess that’s not that unusual or all that bad, but given this age of multimedia, am I doing enough thinking and reflecting around why I use a specific image and what message does it convey?

This had me thinking a bit about Bud the Teacher’s annual month of poetry picture prompts, in which he posts an image and asks folks to be inspired to write a poem. Each morning, I found something unusual and would let the image spark some words and thoughts, and then I would write. I love how that visual element really got to the heart of creative inspiration.

Here’s an image he posted about refrigerator art:

magnetic poetry

And here was the poem that he inspired for me, looking at some art of my young son on our fridge (Creative Commons License photo credit: surrealmuse):

Oh, Luke, how could you
flash that light saber at your father like that,
there, with your stick arms and fat head,
drawn from some innocence yearning for conflict
and placed right next to the phone numbers
of people whose numbers we should remember anyway.
Luke, you’re not going anywhere anyway,
not with that magnet stuck to your head,
and I hope you don’t mind sharing your space with a report card,
a few coupons,
a reminder or two,
and that flier for a summer camp.
Space has become a cluttered place, Luke, and you’ll have to make do
until the Force of gravity releases you.

The next Teacher Challenge activity was all about embedding media, which I do quite regularly. I am always trying out things and sharing my process as best as I can here at my blog. I figure learning is an adventure, and the more I can reflect, the more I know about what I am doing. Media such as videos and interactive applications are becoming more and more portable, allowing us a chance to engage our readers in different ways. There is also a wide range of skills that go into creating a multimedia piece, and embedding them into our blogs gives us wider publication.

Since we’re on the poetry kick, I figure I would embed a Voicethread that I had created when I did a 30 poems in 30 Days project a few years ago, and asked folks to add thoughts or comments.

Peace (in the kickstart),

Words Are Like Puzzles

We’re starting up our unit on The Origins of Words and this week, we worked on the idea of breaking down and rebuilding words based on their prefix, suffix and roots. The aim here is as much about where words come from as giving my students some strategies for deciphering unknown words. “Find the root,” is the mantra I have been giving them.

And then we had some fun, pulling together prefix, root and suffix parts to create words that sound sort of real but are not, and then using the definition of the “parts” to come up with a  definition of the word. We called this activity “Jigsaw Words” because I want them to envision the pieces like a puzzle of meaning.

I then went around with my little voice recorder and all students shared out a word they had created.

Take a Listen to our Jigsaw Words

Peace (in the parts),

Working on a Workshop Proposal: Tech Across Content Areas

Two members of our Western Massachusetts Writing Project Technology Team and I are working on a collaborative proposal for a technology conference that is coming to a nearby city in the spring. We’re sort of scrambling because the deadline looms for proposals (it’s my fault, thinking I had a conflict and now realizing that I don’t).

The conference is called The First Annual Technology Conference and Exhibition, with keynote speaker Alan November (worth the admission right there, I think).  The conference seems  a little bit too commercial/vendor heavy (if the website is any indication) to me, but we’ll see how it goes. The conference is sponsored by a group with educational ties (Technology in Education Partnership), and I have been asked by two different folks (one is the head tech person at our school district and the other is part of the New Literacies Initiative) to consider submitting proposals.

Our idea is around the topic of Technology in the Content Areas, as Tom has done work around creating digital portfolios for his math students, Tina has done digital storytelling with her journalism students, and I have done digital science picture books with my students. While our focus is on technology across the curriculum, I am hoping we spend a fair amount of time around assessment and alignment with standards, as our state is moving quickly into the Common Core, which I think opens more doors for media and technology use in content-area classrooms.

What’s nice is that the three of us did most of this work for the National Writing Project’s Digital Is site, so our work can be accessed during the workshop (they promise free wireless for participants) as a way to begin our conversations.

We need to get our proposal in in a few days, and then we’ll see what happens. I like being part of a team making a pitch for a workshop, and the three of us work well together (we’ve done technology summer camps before).

Peace (in the proposal),

Working, Playing, Talking Glogster

Yesterday, we spent much of our class period talking about, which I have shown my students but never brought them into. Now that we are in the midst of an independent book reading unit, with a book project as one of the end products, I wanted them to learn a bit about Glogster, which is an online postering site.

So, we went through the activities yesterday of logging in, changing passwords, adding a little bit of profile information, talking about privacy (Glogster as a closed community), discussing design elements (“just because you can doesn’t mean you should’), and providing some time for just playing around with the site.

Just like last year, they took to it pretty quickly and were having a blast with the site. I heard a lot of “let me show you how to do that” and “I want to change my avatar” and  “I wonder what this does” and “can I do this at home, too, Mr. H?” Yes, of course.

This week, they will also begin doing some research and then building a Glog poster around a type of bridge, as part of a collaboration that I do with our science teacher. Today, in fact, she is going to be showing them some projects from last year, with an emphasis on glogs that did not quite work because they were too flashy, or represents bad design (no student names are on those projects).

Here are two handouts that I provided to my students yesterday. The tutorial was adapted from someone else’s.

Peace (in the glogs),


Eavesdropping on the WMWP

wmwp small2If you were in our Western Massachusetts Writing Project Leadership Team Meeting yesterday, here is some of what you would have heard:

  • The prototype for the new WMWP website is up and now we are starting to gather folks to begin the shift of content from the old site to the new site, with the hope of launching the new website in early spring (only a few months behind schedule);
  • Applications are now available for next year’s Invitational Summer Institute, the four-week centerpiece of work within the Writing Project that is packed with inquiry, collaboration, exploration and writing. Plus, more writing.
  • We’re in the midst of some leadership turnover, as one of our co-director’s three-year term is expiring and another co-director needs to step down due to a family situation (ie, another baby). That co-director also is the editor of our twice-yearly WMWP Newsletter, so we need an editor, too. This brought up a long conversation again about the roles of our co-directors (in areas of inservice, continuity and youth/family outreach.)
  • We wondered (again) about the development an e-news newsletter, which would be more regular and “brand” WMWP. It might also replace the barrage of emails from WMWP office that sometimes comes in. We decided to table this until the website is up and running.
  • We examined the feedback from the participants of our October Best Practices event and talked about changes that could happen to make the event better for everyone (participants, presenters, organizers), and mulled over some “themes” for next year.
  • Our “theme” for this year is “Language Diversity” and the readings for an upcoming WMWP Meeting (we use readings for writing into the day and to spark discussions) will be culled from the NWP Digital Is site. Two members of the team will spend some time finding resources that fit the theme of  “language diversity.”
  • We wrote our way into the meeting and most of us chose the concept of Common Core Standards, which our state has adopted, and continued discussions of how WMWP might best help teachers begin to make the shift into Common Core via Professional Development opportunities. We have some folks working on Common Core curriculum right now, and we offer classes around expository writing and content-area writing that fits under that umbrella. Now, we need to leverage that expertise.

I guess we covered a lot more than I thought, now that I write it down as a reflective post.

Peace (in the WMWP),

Our Puppet Shows, Published

Taco Week from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

All 22 of the collaborative puppet shows have now been published at our Puppet Shows of Norris School website. Just a reminder: these are original plays planned out and written collaboratively, with original puppets made by students, and performed behind a puppet theater made by sixth graders about 10 years ago.

The Puppet Show Website

I have to say that for the most part, the stories were pretty cohesive and followed a story arc with protagonists and antagonists and most were able to get a moral or theme into the writing. These are the writing skills that I was going after, plus the exploration of the genre of script writing.

I’ll try to share out individual puppet plays during the week (I had this idea of highlighting specific plays) but one thing that was obvious is that in three of the four classes, there was a taco-themed play. And last year, there were some taco-themed plays. And the year before that, too, if I am not mistaken.

Mucho Taco Day from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

What’s up with the tacos?

So, here are the three taco plays from this year, sprinkled like space throughout this post.

Taco Day from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

Peace (with the cheese and fixings),

Recording a Demo Song

I have a new rock and roll band up and running, with three friends from my old group and three new friends on bass, lead guitar and vocals. I am mostly playing saxophone now, and a little rhythm guitar, and maybe some keyboards as we push ourselves farther towards gigging a few times a year.

I was thinking of our new singer the other day (he has a great voice) and I began writing a song for him to sing with the band. I came up with this upbeat song about dancing through the night to the rhythm and blues. I had recorded a simple demo (me, with acoustic guitar) but I didn’t like it.

So yesterday, I dragged out some instruments and used Audacity to record this version, complete with guitar, bass, organ and saxophone (I had to use my alto because my tenor is at my friend’s house, but it came out OK). I did my best with my own vocals. It’s good enough for a demo, but I can’t wait to here our real singer give it a try.

Listen to the Song

Champagne, Whiskey and the Rhythm and Blues Tonight

I’m all fired up and I’m ready to rock
I got my dancing shoes on — (I) ain’t never gonna stop
You can take my hand and lead me off into the night
‘Cause when I change my clothes and you put on your dress
You got me spinning around — my head’s a mess
You can take my hand and lead me off into the night

Somewhere out there we can hear our song
The band’s working hard and we can sing along
Champagne, Whiskey and the Rhythm and Blues Tonight
Champagne, Whiskey and the Rhythm and Blues Tonight.

Don’t look for tomorrow ‘cause it’s too far away
The sunlight’s sleeping ‘til the break of day
You can take my hand and lead me off into the night
I’m gonna hold you close, so I can feel your heart beat
Gonna kick back our heels and knock you off your feet
You can take my hand and lead me off into the night

Somewhere out there a guitar’s on fire
a saxophone wails with desire
Champagne, Whiskey and the Rhythm and Blues Tonight
Champagne, Whiskey and the Rhythm and Blues Tonight.

Baby, we ain’t getting old
‘cause we listen to the radio
Champagne, Whiskey and the Rhythm and Blues Tonight
Champagne, Whiskey and the Rhythm and Blues Tonight
Champagne, Whiskey and the Rhythm and Blues Tonight.

Peace (in the music),